Recently, there have been a chorus of articles declaring that Short-Term Mission Trips are useless, and a complete waste of time and resources. As a pastor that has seen the value of these types of trips, I believe this to be a total MYTH that has been put in place simply to stir up the Christian social media and blogger types to garner web traffic.
I have been a youth/college pastor for 18+ years. In that time, we have taken groups on MANY mission trips, both domestic and international. Most often, we hear conern about the large COST of traveling to do ministry. Honestly, for someone that has never been on a mission trip, this is a completely valid question. One that we have prayed long and hard over. However, to fully understand just how valuable these trips are to one's spiritual growth, it would be a good idea to zoom out a bit and take a look at the bigger picture in our lives.
First, it should be said that taking a mission trip just to take a mission trip is not a good idea. Like any ministry endeavor that a church or an individual undertakes, a specific mission trip should be carefully and prayerfully chosen. To simply buy plane tickets, make hotel reservations, show up in a place and attempt a stand-alone ministry for a few days will end up being frustrating, tiring, and possibly ineffective in many ways. There is great wisdom in finding an on-going ministry, where God is already at work, to partner with in any short-term mission project. Most of the time, the leadership on the ground (which are often local pastors, missionaries, etc.) are well versed in the actual needs (vs. our own perceptions of their needs) of the community in which you will be partnering with to do ministry. Care should be taken that the ministry is legitimate, and that proper follow-up will be performed long after the mission team is gone.
Now, let's zoom back in a bit, and look at 5 reasons that I believe will show just how valuable these mission trips can be:
1. Leaving the comfort zone of your home town WILL CHANGE YOU, and in a GOOD way! One of the reasons that I firmly believe in the value of mission trips is the change that they bring about in the traveler's own World View. Seeing God move among people of a different regions and cultures is an eye-opening experience. People worship differently, approach teaching differently, and have different perspectives on the importance of material possessions, etc. in these other places. Yet, the fascinating part of experiencing these differences is seeing the common thread of the same Holy Spirit moving in lives everywhere. This realization deepened my faith, and reminded me of just how great of a God our Lord really is!
2. The RELATIONSHIPS you develop on mission trips will deepen your faith, deepen your prayer life, and teach you more than you could ever learn by reading a book about the place you are visiting. I have developed mentorships (those that I mentor, and those that mentor me) and friendships with ministers and believers all over the world. This is one of the long-term effects of a mission trip. Through the invaluable internet tools like Skype, Facebook, email, etc., keeping up with those far away has become possible. Who among us could not benefit from a daily reminder to pray for other believers around the world?
3. God often uses mission trips to DIRECT the lives of those who go. By stepping out in faith and venturing into the unknown territory of a mission trip, it puts you in an amazing place to hear the voice of the Lord. Does God show everyone that goes on a mission trip that they are supposed to move overseas and become a full-time missionary? Obviously not. However, when dealing with an unknown place and situation, we are normally more focused on the Lord during an opportunity like a mission trip. Maybe you have been praying about a specific part of your life, but God waits to reveal the answer to you until you have stepped outside of your "normal" long enough to fully hear from him. Maybe God WILL ask you to do something life-altering, like taking a new job or moving somewhere as a missionary... maybe He will not. However, as followers of Christ, we need to take every opportunity we can to hear His call and His direction for us.
4. The INFUSION of ENERGY that your short-term mission team brings can often encourage those missionaries and pastors that you are there to minister with. Any pastor or ministry leader will tell you that there are often hard and lonely days of service... no matter your location. However, in many places that we take mission trips, the pastors/leaders on the ground are dealing with very limited personnel and resources. A mission team can often give them ability to accomplish the ministry vision that the Lord has given them. We all need a boost in ministry. Keep in mind that when we do ministry, we should be doing ministry for all people. We may all be at different stages of our spiritual lives, but God often uses other believers to spur us on. I do not know about you, but relationships like this always refresh and inspire me.
5. What is the Price of a CHANGED LIFE? Seriously, how do you quantify the value of a life that is changed by God? Lives should always be changed by ministry. Lives are changed when hearts respond to the message of the Cross. Lives are changed when we are the instruments that God uses to accomplish that change. Lives are changed when we learn to put others before ourselves. I have seen the Lord do all of these things through mission trips. Can you put a price on that kind of change? To me, it is worth every penny we spend to do missions.
Yes, I know that there are mission trips that are really more focused on seeing a new place, rather than being God's hands and feet in that place. I know that on the surface, many "ministries" can seem pretty ineffective. However, it is important that we do not put limits on what God can use to change lives. Remember, God used many methods for speaking to people throughout the Bible... including allowing a donkey to speak so that Namaan could realize his own folly in Numbers 22? Who are we to limit God by our own limited understanding of the world?
Next time you have the opportunity to go on some type of mission trip, please keep the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8b in mind, "...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to not be limited in our ministry by distance, or even by money. God has proven Himself to be a BIG God... just listen to Him, follow His words, and let Him handle the rest. It will change your life...